Saturday, December 03, 2011


We tend to think of previous eras as less anxious, because they are entirely predictable - now.

Now that you know you are going to have friends and have a place in society, being 14 looks pretty idyllic.  Now that you you know that your children will not die in some horrible accident, will finish school and get jobs, and didn't become axe murderers, you can remember the warm and cuddly things you did and wonder why we worried so much.

Almost everything we remember contains great inaccuracies, sometimes of detail, but more often of focus and meaning. 


Donna B. said...

I honestly cannot remember ever worrying about my place in society.

And I have never stopped worrying about my children (and now my grandchildren) dying in a horrible accident or of a horrible illness. It happens even when they are 35.

What are you talking about here? Where are you headed with this?

I think I understand what you mean about inaccuracies of focus and meaning, but your examples do not lead to that in my experience.

That sort of inaccuracy is the kind illustrated by my husband's and his brother's grossly different recollections of their childhood even though they are close in age. Listening to them talk about their childhood, I've decided they didn't actually grow up together.

I often wonder if my sister and I were raised by the same mother since she apparently imparted vastly differing values to each of us.

Yes, I do tend to think of my past as less anxious than now because I was blissfully ignorant then.

Texan99 said...

As Meryl Streep says in "Out of Africa," "God makes the Earth round so we won't see too far ahead on the path ahead of us."

I have a somewhat morbid habit of imagining how I'd view the present depending on how awful something might be that will happen next. Of course it's also helpful to remember times in the past when things seemed awful but were about to get better.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

The past looks calm and attractive now. It wasn't then. There is also Garrison Keillor's line"We think of those as simpler times, because we were children and our needs were looked after by others. But it wasn't simple for them."

jaed said...

The past looks calm and attractive now

It does?

(In other words, I wonder whether you might not be taking your own experience and overgeneralizing somewhat. Being fourteen was not idyllic at all for me, not then and not in recollection. And I don't think of previous historical eras as less anxious... on the contrary, actually, considering everything that could and often did go wrong.)

terri said...

I understand some of what you are saying here. A sort of "If I knew then what I know now" attitude that might have helped us at 14 or 18 or 21.

I'm halfway through this parenting thing and when I look back, I certainly think that there were times a backward looking perspective would have helped me. I care entirely too much sometimes about the details of child rearing during those early years, certainly thinking that there were definite "right" ways to do things and "wrong" ways to do things.

Sometimes that made me a very good, conscientious parent and at other times it made me a neurotic mess.

I concur with jaed. I would never go back to age 14. I would never go back to any youthful age because I was not in control of my own destiny and lived in a sometimes chaotic household. I love my family but I could never happily live with them.

I also would never want to live in past eras. I like my modern life, thank you very much! ;-)

Warm nostalgia is probably more prominent in people who have had relatively stable childhoods, or some good, meaningful, encouraging relationships....even if childhood wasn't perfect.

I also tend to be a little morbid, like Texan99. Frequently, I will realize that in life we are always dancing on the precipice of unpredictable disaster. At any moment life can be wiped out in a car accident, or a terminal diagnosis. THis thought sometimes makes me worry, while at other times it makes me less anxious as I surrender to the reality that bad things will happen and they are entirely out of our control....and life still goes on.

Living in between those bad events is what is important.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Hmm... I had a childhood with some difficulties and anxiety, but I still think you are right, terri. I was not thinking of my early life exactly when I wrote the post, but of "how the world was then" or some such thing. The anxiety of parenting was indeed much in my mind. We worried about everything, as you did. Yet now, I am much more likely to recall the interactive joys of that era, the family stories, forgetting the anxieties. I was reminding myself that it was indeed an anxious time. Jonathan nearly died in infancy, a medical condition lurked in his background for years, and son #2 was brilliant but eccentric, and we wondered if he would ever find his way in the world, so we obsessed about how to make sure that happened.